Deep Thought – A bi-monthly feature in ReCharge
A Change in Thinking . . .
. . . for Changing Times
Mission in the 21st Century is necessarily very different to the mission of yesteryear.
By Laurie Rowston
The preaching once heard from evangelists of the past such as Henry Varley, which was used so effectively to tell people about Jesus, has lost its persuasiveness in part because the language of religious experience is increasingly unfamiliar.
If we keep using methods that worked for them to talk to non-church attenders about Jesus, we might see some fruit. But we can be quite certain we’ll lose the vast majority, and we’ll lose the vast majority under age 35.
Further, even the great and thoughtful preaching of that era, such as sought after by Congregational Church preachers, will not fill a church, as much as we wish it would and think it should.
What is more, it is harder today to put together a good 20-minute sermon than a prattling 40-minute conversation. On the saw-dust trail, it was a case of bringing folk to Christian faith in a limited time frame.
Keeping the mission alive
So, in the post-Christian, post-modern age in which we live, the method of evangelism must change in order to keep the mission alive.
Here are a few pointers . . . and they have more to do with the subject of evangelism generally, than the week-by-week preaching in church. For these ideas I am indebted to Carey Nieuwhof, who is pastor of one of the most influential churches in North America.
Embracing the question is as important as giving an answer
Evangelism used to be mostly about helping people find answers but, often, in the process of providing an answer, we fail to really embrace or honour their question.
Steering the conversation is better than pushing for a conclusion
We should not step away from people’s questions. We need to learn to listen without judgment. We need to affirm a person’s intentions. Being open is more effective than being certain. We can be certain. Ultimately, we must be certain because our faith is certain. Our faith stands on a sure and certain ground. But, when talking to others, coming across as certain is far less effective than coming across as open.
The person who is always certain thinks they’re being convincing, when the opposite is often true.
We need to learn to listen without judgment.
Arrogance, smugness and superiority are dead
For too long putting the case for Christianity has been carried with a tone of arrogance, smugness and superiority. It was the case with Billy Sunday. There was a triumphalism in his words. This triumphalism continued in “Moral Majority”, and today continues in the preaching of imaginative TV preachers.
Arrogance is so ingrained in many Christian cultures that Christians don’t even see it or hear it anymore. Humility is attractive. Humility is what makes Jesus so much more attractive to people. Spreading the kingdom does not mean hell-fire evangelism; it means living a Christ-like life.
Humility is what makes Jesus so much more attractive to people.
The timeline is longer
We like to conclude everything in about 35 seconds; revivalists did, within the hour. Increasingly, evangelism doesn’t work that way. People who come to faith when pressured often leave it after a few years.
Conversely, the people who come to faith in their own timeline tend to be flourishing years down the road. It took the disciples three years to figure out who Jesus was, didn’t it? We need people and leaders who will take the time to go on a journey with people.
But for the revivalists such as Billy Sunday, it all had to be done in the time frame of the particular revivalist meeting. People were there to hear the message, respond to the message, acknowledge their sin, repent and commit.
We need people and leaders who will take the time to go on a journey with people.
It is true we are not to lose our sense of urgency in the mission, as we should not raise doubts where there are none. But we need to give people space, and we need to give the Holy Spirit space to do His work.
Laurie Rowston is Tasmanian Baptists’ historian. His latest book, Tasmanian Baptists, Lessons from Our First Twenty Years, will soon be available.
To find out more about the book, or to place an order, please get in touch with him: firstname.lastname@example.org
Give the Holy Spirit Space
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